- Jun 29 2016
We humans tend to judge by appearances before getting to know someone. I had heard about Moondil Jahan all summer while working for the Center for International Education. She was our latest Watson Fellowship winner, and she was going to be leaving the United States soon. By the time of our interview I had formed a hazy image in my head of what she must be like from our press releases on the Watson and the performances I’d had the pleasure of watching… both her dancing troupe and the Afro-Latin drumming ensemble. She seemed so big then – drawing the audience’s attention her direction with her powerful stage presence – the very picture of confidence. You can imagine my surprise when she walked in for our interview. Clashing with my first perception: there stood a slight girl.
She greeted me with one of the brightest smiles I have ever seen in my life.
It was at that moment that I really started to understand that Watson Fellowship winners surprise you in unexpected ways. How many students had I met at Berea College that did the exact same thing?
Pre-departure – What does it feel like? Connections?
Upon being asked whether or not she was scared or worried before her departure, Moondil gave a resolute no. If anything, she said she was excited. The confidence I had seen in many of her performances appeared again. Moon explained that she was sincerely thankful for her African-Latin Percussion Ensemble instructor – Tripp Bratton. He was responsible for helping her create contacts in the various countries she wanted to visit for her Watson. With his guidance, she was able to establish relationships with Sayon Camara in Guinea, Gideon Alorwoyie in Ghana, a past Berea graduate by the name of Aminata Cairo in Amsterdam, and other drummers around the world. These people were able to help her with topics on drumming, dancing, or both. She had spent a year or more talking with these people, and was ready to meet them in person.
Moon stressed the importance of building connections. These connections helped her Watson project come together. An allegory she used when describing the process was like using strings. A person writing a Watson should be able to connect everything together, and as she talked I imagined the Watson proposal as a big tapestry. Consider each element of the Watson as a string – the countries, the topics, the places, the people, and the things you chose to do and study. She found how those strings related to one another, and soon her proposal had coalesced into a beautiful hand-crafted piece of art.
It was through her process of building up contacts and connections that she stumbled upon an astounding opportunity. Moondil became familiar with the drumming of Guinean drummer Famoudou Konaté while educating herself about African rhythmaculture. She had read many of his interviews and really looked up to him. She mentioned his honorary professorship (in Didactic of African Musical Practice) from the University of Berlin Arts with a grin. She talked about how he toured Europe for decades.
One day Moondil was talking to her contact in Guinea, Sayon Camara. As they were talking, he mentioned that he had learned drumming from Famoudou Konaté. Even more astoundingly, he told Moondil that she could meet him! When telling us this, she was practically vibrating in her seat from excitement. Her process of building contacts and meeting people had opened a world of opportunities to her.
Writing: Poetry vs. Prose, Proposals, and More Connections
Watson Fellowship hopefuls, in the midst of panicking and editing their umpteenth draft, typically want advice on the process of writing a Watson proposal. Moondil had some very good tips and suggestions for them. When writing her Watson proposal she worked very closely with a professor in the Spanish Department – Dr. Fred de Rosset. She suggested to find someone who “knows you well, who is a good person, and who knows how to listen.”
Admittedly, Moon went through several hundred drafts while writing her proposal. She explained how English was not her first language (she is from Bangladesh), and how Dr. de Rosset had her “tell stories” about why she made specific word choices in her essay. He then was able to help her refine the wording of her proposal. They met many times over the span of several months. She said she benefited immensely from the support of her professor.
Not only that, Moondil took advantage of other opportunities across campus. She was striving to make her Watson coherent – once again she used “strings” to describe her process – and wanted to leave no room for messiness in her writing. She aptly said, “You cannot take a word limit negatively. There is a reason why poems are more beautiful than prose.”
Her point was that life is like a novel, and your job is to shorten your story into something like poetry, so that it might perfectly fit your Watson proposal requirements. Moondil emphasized that the Watson Fellowship is an investment in a person, and everyone has something unique to bring to the table, “If you are passionate about something, there is no way you can be ordinary.”
Moondil decided to take advantage of other opportunities on campus too. She went to the Center for Transformative Learning for a mock interview with Amanda Tudor. Those applying for the Watson Fellowship must go through two sets of interviews: one to pick four students to be nominated by from Berea College for the fellowship, and another from a representative from the Thomas J. Watson committee. This was another way to refine the skills she needed to win. Outside of the CTL, she also thoroughly enjoyed a mock interview with Dr. Carol de Rosset.
The advice she left Watson hopefuls is this: if you have a passion, if you truly love it, do not compromise. She explained how that beginning of writing process that she was unable to choose between dancing and drumming for proposal before realizing – why not both? You need to know clearly what you want to do. The core of this truth seemed to be this – your own passion, and the uniqueness of your experience, is what makes your Watson unique and something worth investing in.
The Road Ahead
The journey of a Watson Fellowship winner is both full of happiness and hardships. I asked Moondil what she thought would be the most difficult part of her journey, and she explained that it will be the “release for emotions that cannot be expressed with words” that come from dancing and drumming. Her exploration of rhythmaculture will bring her to different countries and cultures, and she will experience grief and rejoicing with people she has never met before. This will be deeply personal, and she will be fully immersed in emotions she feels are the strongest in human experience. It will be simultaneously difficult and fulfilling.
Moondil started out on the first leg of her journey June 24th, 2016—just a few days after our last- minute interview. She will not step foot on American soil for an entire year. This is the expectation of all Thomas J. Watson Fellowship winners. Her confidence, sense of self, and fearlessness will buoy her throughout all of her times of hardship and happiness. We wish her the best of luck out there!
- Mar 16 2016
BEREA, Kentucky—The Center for International Education is proud to announce that Berea College Nominee Moondil Jahan won the national competition for the 2016-2017 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship prize of $30,000.
Moondil will engage in purposeful exploration—traveling the world for 365 days—after she graduates in May.
Her project, “Journey through Rhythmaculture: Grieving and Rejoicing through Indigenous Drumming and Dancing,” will take her through Germany, Morocco, Spain, Peru, Ghana, Suriname and The Netherlands.
This journey, for Moondil, is not just one of exploring countries and cultures. She explains, “My Watson project entails a journey both inwards and outwards, concurrently towards myself and others. I am humbled and thrilled to receive such an honor.”
Moondil has experienced sorrow and joy and felt them “through the indigenous music and dance of [her] motherland, Bangladesh.” “I have chosen to explore these art forms across linguistic, cultural, and geographic borders,” she notes, “A region is considered to have a rhythmaculture, when its culture fully embraces its traditional music and dance in every aspect of life. Delving into the rich and ancient tradition of drumming and dancing I will gain firsthand exposure to the world’s most remarkable performers while learning the cathartic powers of rhythmaculture at a global level.”
Berea College is the only school in the Commonwealth from which The Watson Fellowship accepts candidates.
This year, 152 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 40 fellows were selected. The Watson pool continues to be extremely competitive. Berea College is grateful to be able to put forward candidates for this esteemed prize.
This year’s class of Watson Fellows comes from 21 states and eight countries. They exhibit a broad range of academic specialty, socio-economic background, and life experience. The 48th Class of Watson Fellows, will traverse 67 countries exploring topics ranging from climate change to incarceration; from technology empowerment to forced migration; from car culture to ethnoentomology.
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, named after the founder of International Business Machines (IBM), offers graduating college seniors of “unusual promise” the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Its goals are to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, mindful citizens of the world. Each year, about 40 students receive $30,000 each.
To learn more about applying as a Berea student or recommending a student, visit: https://www.berea.edu/cie/thomas-j-watson-fellowship/
To read Moondil’s project summary and the other 39 amazing projects, see: http://watson.foundation/fellowships/tj/fellows
#BereaAbroad #WatsonWednesday #BereaCollege
- Jan 20 2016
Berea, KY- Berea College is proud to announce that Aja Croteau ’16 of Winchester, KY was just named a semi-finalist at the next level for an international post-graduate US Student Fulbright Scholarship. This graduating senior’s proposal will now be sent to Belgium to be considered there.
Aja hopes to be an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Belgium. Studying French throughout middle and high school revealed her passion for exploring new languages and cultures. As an additional project, Aja plans to engage with food issues that arise in Belgium. She has vast experience working with food security and teaching people how to grow their own healthier food. She will find out by late April if she has been selected by the Belgian National Selection Committee.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is an international educational exchange sponsored by the U.S. State Department. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through cultural engagement.
Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has provided opportunities for approximately 325,400 people from the United States and from countries around the world to observe each others’ political, economic, educational and cultural institutions, to exchange ideas, and to embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world’s inhabitants. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.
Berea students who are about to graduate or young alumni can apply at the following link: https://www.berea.edu/cie/fulbright-us-student-program/. The deadline for the application is September 30th every award year.
- Jan 13 2016
47 Berea students studied abroad for a semester or a full year—30% more than the previous year and an all-time record for Berea College! A total of 169 students experienced some kind of educational experience abroad in more than 35 countries.
40% of the class of 2015 engaged Education Abroad while at Berea College—up 6% from the year before.
11 Berea students received a combined $41,000 through the national Benjamin Gilman Scholarship program, which is designed to diversify the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where. The Gilman supports undergraduates who might otherwise not participate for financial reasons. Berea was the top recipient in Kentucky.
11 Berea Faculty members taught a course abroad—either through our internal Berea International Summer Term (BIST) Program or through Consortia.
90+ people attended CIE’s weekly international program—an increase of about 10 more people per program. For a third year in a row, the Center for International Education managed a wonderful collaboration within our office: a weekly lunch program called Think Globally—it’s Friday (TGIF). The program featured students who are either international or have studied abroad. The food was both regionally appropriate and delicious. Every student who studies abroad shares some of their learnings with the campus community. This is our most popular format.
$600 in scholarship funds for study abroad was raised by a student-led “Wellness Around the World” 5K.
$30,000 went to this year’s Berea Thomas J. Watson Fellowship winner Tuvshinzaya Amarzaya who is currently traveling all over the world looking at martial arts. Berea is one of only 40 schools nationwide that can nominate candidates for this prestigious award.
Nearly $400,000 was the amount that Berea’s CIE endowed funds contributed toward students’ experiences abroad. Summer abroad students received $161,125 in support from endowed funds administered by the Center for International Education. The CIE awarded $237,791 for Berea Term Abroad for all semester and year-long study abroad programs. Additional funds were awarded by the Foreign Language Department.
(Berea is unique because every student approved for study abroad receives a one-time scholarship to help defray the extra costs. We are extremely grateful for all this support—and especially thankful for the donors who have generously given funds specifically so that our students can foster a greater understanding of, and respect for, all peoples of the earth.)
- Oct 23 2015
Berea, KY- Joseph Nance ’16 (Knoxville, TN), Aja Croteau ’16 (Winchester, KY), Liana Madrid ’16 (Brownsville, TX), are all Berea Nominees for the post-graduate Fulbright Scholarship. These three graduating seniors will now compete at the national level. The Fulbright Program is the international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through cultural engagement.
Joseph Nance has an interest in the motivations behind the younger generation’s interest in displaying social status via different social media outlets. Therefore, he applied to go to graduate school at City University in London, UK. Although Joseph would be in graduate school, he plans to continue his journey through London by connecting with people through social media.
Aja Croteau applied to be an English teaching assistant in Belgium. Aja studied French throughout middle and high school, which exposed her passion for exploring new languages and cultures. As an additional project, Aja plans to combat the food issues that are arise in Belgium. She has vast experience working with food security and teaching people how to grow their own healthier food.
Due to her study abroad experience this past spring, Liana Madrid intends to return to South Korea to teach English to high schoolers. Liana became intrigued with how the different generations maintain their culture while also progressing socially and culturally. In addition to teaching, Liana has proposed an afterschool photography project to help the high schoolers express themselves and their cultural identity.
The Berea Nominees will find out in December if they will move forward as semi- finalists. Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program has provided opportunities for approximately 325,400 people from the United States and from countries around the world to observe each others’ political, economic, educational and cultural institutions, to exchange ideas, and to embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world’s inhabitants. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.
You do not need to be enrolled at Berea College to apply. Students who have already graduated can apply as well at the following link: https://www.berea.edu/cie/fulbright-us-student-program/. The deadline for the application is September 30th every award year. #BereaAbroad #Fulbright
- Oct 7 2015
BEREA, Kentucky—The Center for International Education is proud to announce its four Berea College Nominees to the national slate for the 2016-2017 Watson Fellowship. Fewer than 160 graduating seniors from 40 institutions are nominated nationwide for this esteemed prize. Berea College is the only school in the Commonwealth from which The Watson Fellowship accepts candidates.
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, named after the founder of International Business Machines (IBM), offers graduating college seniors of “unusual promise” the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Its goals are to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, mindful citizens of the world. Each year, 40 winners of The Watson receive $30,000 each.
After intense deliberation over proposals from Berea’s impressive group of Watson Fellowship applicants, the four seniors nominated for the national running have been determined: Moondil Jahan, Liana Madrid, Ngoc Anh Cao, and Abigail Palmer.
Moondil Jahan is honored to explore the expression of grief and joy through indigenous drumming and dancing. She plans to travel to Spain, Germany, and Morocco. This journey, for Moondil, is not just one of exploring countries and cultures. She goes on to explain, “My Watson project entails a journey both inwards and outwards, concurrently towards myself and others. I am humbled and thrilled to receive such an honor to be a part of Watson Four.”
Abigail Palmer is excited about analyzing superheroes and anti-heroes in media around the world. She plans to travel to Spain, India, Italy, England, and Scotland. “I am absolutely honored to be offered such an opportunity and hope that I can represent myself, friends, family, and Berea well during this challenging, but rewarding process.”
Liana Madrid will be investigating the creation of cultural identities by ethnic minorities. Liana plans to travel to Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, and Brazil. Liana is honored to have been chosen as well. She says, “I am more than grateful to be given the opportunity to move forward. It has been an on-going process for me to believe and see my potential, and it feels very surreal to have been nominated as one of four Berea students for a chance to be a Watson Fellow. Thank you!”
Ngoc Anh Cao, who will be looking into hearing the stories of Vietnamese Boat Refugees, will be traveling to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, and Canada. She feels that this project is giving her a voice. “This fellowship tells me that my personal story matters, and that
what I’m committed to doing will create something good in this world, not only for myself but also for others.”
- Sep 16 2015
I am originally from New York City and my parents were immigrants from China in the early 90s. Prior to coming to Berea, I have lived in a bustling city, a rural small town in China, and the rolling hills of Virginia. As a child, my dream was to go to college one day, a privilege that my parents did not have. On top of being highly encouraged to pursue an undergrad degree, my mom has instilled the value of a strong work ethic in me. Post Berea, I hope to travel and attend grad school. In my free time, I enjoy traveling, learning different languages and cooking!
My Study Abroad Experience:
I studied abroad this past semester, spring 2015, in Alicante, Spain. My decision to study abroad was not an easy one. I did not think I would have enough money, I was not sure where to do, and when to go. However, I did know that time abroad would be exactly what I need to complete my college experience. After talking to fellow Berea College students that have gone abroad, I decided that I should see the world, even if it meant taking out a large loan. Fortunately, a year post my decision to study abroad, I am beyond content with my choice to study in Spain and I did so with the help of the GEO scholarship from Berea and the Gilman scholarship, leaving me only a small amount of loan.
When I was deciding on where to go, one of my friends told me to go where I want to live and not where I would be content to just travel. That helped me so much because I wanted to see so many places around the world but in reality, I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country in Europe where I could travel to other European countries so that really narrowed it down to Spain.
On January 9, 2015, I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Alicante, little did I know the impact that this medium-size city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea would leave such an impression on me. I started out as the quiet girl who went to a college that no one had heard of in the middle of Kentucky, all my classes were in Spanish, and I was living in a new environment with a different culture. Everything seemed that much scarier to me but too my surprise, Alicante felt like home in just a short amount of time; I had a distinct route that I took to walk home, I knew all the baristas at my coffee shop, I greeted the same neighbors every morning as I run out to catch the tram- I had my own routine.
During my time abroad, I was able to take 5 courses in Spanish, lived with an amazing host family, travel to other countries, paraglide on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, zip line from Spain to Portugal, visit most of the major cities in Spain and even attend a Barcelona soccer game; I have had an amazing journey. One of them most incredible experience of my abroad trip that was made possible because of the Gilman scholarship was my Camino de Santiago or St. James’s Way. A group of students from my study abroad program and some of our professors embarked on this five-day pilgrimage in the region of Galicia, Spain. We started our pilgrimage in Sarria and ended in Santiago de Compostela, where St. James was buried. Through this 75 miles walk, I learned a lot about my companions or “pilgrims” as we were called and a lot about myself. We supported each other through every step, laughed at every funny joke and the never-ending singing of Disney songs, cried through the pain of blisters, sunburnt, and other wounds and sometimes literally carrying each other but we made it and we made it together. The Camino made me realize so much more about who I am, what I shared with other and who I want to become.
It’s extremely challenging to summarize everything that I have experienced in the five months that I was abroad but I do know that I do not regret any minute of it. I was able to see parts of the world that I never dreamed of ever seeing, I learned so much about other cultures and people, I experienced things that I did not think I had the courage to do and I learned so much about myself. And to think that all that would not have been possible without Berea College and the Gilman scholarship.
If you are interesting in hearing more about my adventures abroad, you can click on the link below to access my blog. Thanks for reading!
- Sep 4 2015
What did you learn from your Fulbright experience?
I received an English Teaching Assistantship from the Fulbright Program, which provides funding for students, teachers, and professionals to work, teach, or do research abroad. I taught secondary English at two college-prep schools (called Gymnasium) in Nuremberg, Germany. I was assigned 14 different classes each roughly 20-30 students in size, and I was mainly involved in sparking discussion with and creating/giving lessons to these classes. We talked about a huge variety of topics related to American culture/history/ literature; everything from politics and gun control to rap music and the civil rights movement.
The biggest thing I learned was the direction I wanted to take in life moving forward. Since I was only giving lessons 12 hours per week (and always had Friday off!), I had a lot of time to explore my interests and figure out what I actually enjoyed and what I merely tolerated. That isn’t strictly related to the program itself, but it was the biggest thing I took away from the experience. From the experience directly, the biggest takeaway was probably how differently people from around the world understand their role in society. Germans are much more supportive of governmental activities to help the poor, even if that means much higher taxes; there’s more of a consensus that these programs benefit everyone in the long run. This isn’t so much the case here in the U.S, but living in a different culture, with Germans, I learned that this isn’t the default, that maybe these values are social constructs we have created and we can change.
Why should Berea students apply for the Fulbright?
There are a few reasons I think Berea students should apply for a Fulbright. First, it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was able to visit 6 different countries and probably almost 50 cities during my 10 months abroad. All on my (roughly) $1100 a month stipend! Most students with a Berea background simply don’t have the resources to make this happen, I know I wouldn’t have otherwise. This brings me to my second point, Berea students have a unique advantage in the application process: we’re diverse (by Fulbright’s standards)! We represent a niche of applicants that the Fulbright program desperately lacks, people of color and those from low socio-economic backgrounds (this is purely based on my assessment of the people I met through the program).
Any wisdom you would like to offer them?
If you’re considering a program like this, I can’t recommend it enough. It was an astounding experience that showed me things about the world and myself that it would have been hard to discover otherwise. Play to your strengths in your application, have everyone and their brother/mother/sister read over it, go to the CTL, and overall just take the application process very seriously. Fulbright is a highly regarded fellowship/assistantship, and competition is fierce. That being said, I think Berea students are great applicants. I did it, and I think you can too. #fulbrightfriday #bereaabroad
If you want to apply, September 30 is Berea’s campus deadline. Click here for more information.
By Kerstin Wright, Center for International Education Education Abroad Team
- Aug 12 2015
On August 11, 2015, the Gilman Scholarship application window opened for Spring 2016 applications (and early Summer notification as well). Berea College students have won dozens of these national study abroad scholarships, which can be as high as $5000… $8,000 if a critical language scholarship is included).
Want some application tips? Stop by our office at Woods-Penn 205 or shoot an email to Education Abroad Advisor Ann Butwell at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jul 24 2015
Hip Hop Artist Loreal “Queen Victoria” Bell became a Thomas J. Watson Fellow in 2013—one of 40 nationwide. As she reflects back on her experience of a year of fully-funded independent travel, it is clear that The Watson provides unparalleled exploration for graduating college seniors. At Berea, applications are due every September 15 for students who are graduating that December of the following May.
When Queen conceived her dream-year integrating her unique experience, proven skills and passion, she landed on the project: “Prisoner of Words (P.O.W.) [_____]: A Look into Feminist Euro Hip Hop Artists.” It led her to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Austria, where she used interviews and documentary production as a tool for connecting with masculine women from the LGBTQ community who are involved in Hip hop culture.
What did she get out of her Watson year?
- A sense of community and the concept of abundance and generosity. Three times complete strangers who became instant friends offered her the keys to their home so she would have a place to stay while they were away. That sense of people taking care of each other has inspired her expand her initiatives to promote, sharing, bartering and the exchange of professional services, with a small team of like minded individuals—no money involved.
- The experience of collaboration. Women all over Europe invited her to give workshops and collaborate with her on projects. All though most of her time was spent on “P.O.W. [_____],” she maintains contact with all of them. They now form an essential part of Loreal’s world, where ideas abound and there is never enough time to incorporate all of them.
- A sense of purpose. “I realized I could influence people in a positive way to think more critically,” she explained. Currently, Loreal is working at Berea’s own Partners in Education as a VISTA Volunteer. An arts visionary, she also is building up a local non-profit called Bobtown Arts in conjunction with Phillip Wiggs, Vicky and Clarence Hayes. Already replete with property and a community kiln, this arts residency program will feature space for artists to live-in while they work on their specialty, which could range from something traditional like pottery or weaving to newer mixed media forms of art. The residencies will include encouragement for musicians, filmmakers and writers.
- A commitment to life-long learning. Loreal now tries to learn something new every single day.
What advice would she offer student applicants?
- Be courageous and bold.
- Plan, plan, plan. “Have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C; be open to changing and helping your project evolve as you move through the year,” she remarked.
- Get ready to get lost. If you are prepared to experience ambiguity and uncertainty, you will allow yourself to get lost in the flow of the year. That may lead to moments when you get literally or figuratively lost. “That’s okay,” she quipped, “I met the people who became most important to my project during those times when I got lost.”
- “I only wish it was a two-year fellowship,” she said. The experience ended too soon. But that’s not stopping her from continuing her docu-series. She’ll return to Berlin in September to attend the Queer Film Festival there and do more filming, interviewing, collaborating and—you guessed it—learning!